A Unique Grief

by | May 22, 2018 | 0 comments

Some time ago, Agrace HospiceCare asked OutReach to collaborate on making their existing partner/spouse grief support group curriculum specific to LGBTQ needs. What words, for instance, might need to be changed to make things more inclusive?

There were a few that needed work, but as I read through the group’s curriculum, I came to understand that what most needed to be addressed wasn’t the material that was already there. For LGBTQ participants, it was a question of what was not there and needed to be.

What was lacking was the recognition that LGBTQ people’s intimate relationships are at the epicenter of the fault lines where the pressures and stresses of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia build up in our lives.

Discrimination is rife in America, but it’s unique to the LGBTQ community that the discrimination we experience focuses on our closest relationships. When people speak disparagingly of our “lifestyle,” they mean that LGBTQ people have our intimate, loving relationships with people of the wrong sex (and, in the case of transgender individuals, are also wrong about our own gender identity). Implicit in this message is that if we’d only get involved with the right person of the “right” sex, we’d be “normal.”

Our love relationships have been made invisible, misrepresented, and attacked. We have often had to hide them as the price of safety and inclusion in our families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. No matter how loving, committed, and long-lasting, our relationships still fight for legitimacy. This additional layer of anger and heartache compounds the grief, and is unknown to our heterosexual counterparts. 

Rutabaga - Summer
National Women\'s Music Festival

An LGBTQ partner/spouse loss support group needs to make visible our invisible hurts, and support the strengths that have enabled us to survive them all.

Relationship legitimacy: LGBTQ individuals’ primary relationships have been invalidated, seen as inferior to “real” relationships/marriages—even viewed as corrupting and perverse. We’ve all gotten this message on social/cultural and religious levels; many, if not most, have gotten it from family members as well. 

The bereaved LGBTQ person will have to deal with outside reactions to their loss, which may range from the clueless and uncomfortable to the outright denial of the relationship’s meaning and value. This may be less likely to happen when the couple was legally married, since marriage confers legitimacy in our society, but LGBTQ people have been excluded from the option of marriage until very recently and our right to marry remains under attack. 

Family of origin issues: A spouse’s death throws the surviving spouse into a pit of anguish; it’s then that people need the secure love of their families. Tragically, it is somewhat rare for LGBTQ people to have maintained positive relationships with family throughout our lives. Being rejected by some, or all, family members is a loss most know well.

The resulting schisms may never heal. They may have dwindled in their hurtfulness over time, as the now-adult child moves on with her/his/their life, only to take on new and awful power when the beloved’s death leaves the bereaved person in need of comfort and consolation that they cannot get from the family that repudiated them. It’s not unusual for families to treat the death of a life partner as if it were the death of a friend—sad, certainly, but not life-changing. An LGBTQ grief group member might get messages along the lines of, “Guess you have to find a new roommate now.” 

Legal and financial concerns: Love and financial security should not be tied together, but they are. The marriage contract confers over 1,000 rights to spouses. Bereaved spouses—solely heterosexual until very recently—get Social Security survivors’ benefits, immediate, uncomplicated access to the deceased spouse’s pension, retirement, IRAs, investment income, marital property, veteran’s benefits, and more. In the absence of marriage, none of these income sources and legal protections for the bereaved partner exist. More LGBTQ elders live in poverty than do our heterosexual peers, and that’s one big reason why. 

Caregiving-related issues: Around 85% of caregiving for heterosexual individuals is provided by immediate and extended family members. For LGBTQ people without biological family to call on, caregiving often becomes the task of the frailer individual’s partner (if partnered; more LGBTQ elders are single than their age-equivalent heterosexual counterparts), with, perhaps, help from family of choice (a non-biological family of friends and exes mutually committed to aiding one another).

According to “Caregiving in the LGBT Community” (Daniel B. Stewart and Alex Kent, published by SAGE, 2017), “LGBT older adults are more likely to be caring for one another in isolation… About two-thirds of caregivers provide sole care (43%) or are the primary caregiver (25%).” The stress of unrelieved caregiving leads to exhaustion, isolation, and feelings of guilt for not having done enough. 

These are the issues an LGBTQ partner/spouse grief group must be prepared to name, support, and honor. We deserve no less.

Share this Article

Article Tags

National Women\'s Music Festival
Rutabaga - Summer

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rutabaga - Summer
National Women\'s Music Festival

Latest News

Love Strikes

Love Strikes

GSAFE youth Bri Hudson on coming to terms with being a lesbian and adjusting to a new school.

Are You a Friend of Sandy Brown?

Are You a Friend of Sandy Brown?

Army veteran Sandy Brown is a former Vice President of PFLAG’s National Board and a recipient of the PFLAG Starr Award as well as the Door County’s Ann Kok Social Justice Award.

Delta Means Change

Delta Means Change

Delta Beer Lab has done their best to take the high road, as economic pressures challenge business to find a new way,
by making changes that still serve their mission and values.

Growing, Together

Growing, Together

After 25 years together, Pam Mehnert and Lisa Malmarowski reflect on the decades of LGBTQ setbacks and progress they’ve expereinced in Wisconsin.

Hard Work

Hard Work

Crossroads Community Farm organic farmer Cassie Wyss talks about becoming a farmer and a member of the LGBTQ community later in life.

Madison Queer Bike Ride

Madison Queer Bike Ride

Organizer Zach Johnson shares about a meetup in Madison’s Law Park. The ride specifically welcomes all bodies, including new or infrequent bikers, on the second Wednesday of every month at 6:00 (weather permitting).

Queer Climbing Social

Queer Climbing Social

Co-chair Becca Ridge (she/her) and Co-host SJ Hemmerich (they/them) on a monthly meetup at Boulders Climbing Gym’s two locations in Madison.

Latest News

VIEW ALL LATEST NEWS

DCHS - Foster
Forward Fertility
Quigley
Atlas Counseling
DCHS Wildlife Center

Events

SUBMIT AN EVENT

VIEW ALL EVENTS

Jobs

SUBMIT A JOB POSTING

VIEW ALL JOBS

Pin It on Pinterest